The last week and a bit I have had a bad cold, which would normally be fine but as I have mentioned before Dystonia tends not to react well with other illness even if they are just small things like colds. This has resulted in a week full of a variety of spasms and a handful of pain triggered non epileptic seizures. My jaw has tremored quite a lot, I can only presume that the pressure in my sinus area has aggravated it and this is why it has played up more than normal. This in particular has caused the most pain as often my tongue gets bitten in the process.
In spite of feeling under the weather and my Dystonia alien being more mischievous than usual I managed to sit outside the house and enjoy the sunshine. This may sound rather simple, but it involves quite a maneuvering process as our house is not very wheelchair friendly. I normally don’t try to get out the house unless I am actually going somewhere as its hard to do and rather painful.To actually have achieved this without ending up in a hospital A&E department was extremely satisfying. I love being out in the sun, even if it is just for 20 minutes, it’s a nice change from being inside. Even though it’s a very simple achievement it is one that I am celebrating.
Today is the last day of Dystonia Awareness weeks, which is most likely a relief to all the lovely people who are signed up to receive email alerts when I post a new blog as I’ll be going back to posting a couple of times a week. It has been amazing seeing how many people have joined in with Dystonia Awareness week, Thunderclap was seen by over 6 million people which is incredible!
In many of my blog posts this week I have mentioned treatments such as Botox injections, muscle relaxants and Deep Brain Stimulation, however none of these treatments can guarantee relief and are not always accessible, so I wanted to discuss some alternative ways of coping with symptoms. Heat is great for relieving muscular aches and pains that can result from spasms, wheat packs, back wraps and microwaveable slippers are all great products and I use at least one of these three several times a week. TENS machines are also great, I don’t know what I’d do without these. I never go anywhere without one in my handbag and towards my Botox dates they often help keep my neck spasms bearable.
If you can afford alternative therapies I would highly recommend trying Reflexology. I found before having regular treatments that I could not sleep well at night as the spasms would keep me up. This turned into a vicious cycle as I was then too tired to handle my spasms well in the day. Now I find having regular Reflexology treatments enables me to have several good nights of sleep a week which does me the world of good as it means I can handle whatever my body throws at me in the day better. I also find burning scented candles or essential oils helps me relax (and after putting them out) get to sleep easier.
Everyone finds something different that will help them, for some people touching certain pressure points will relieve spasms to a certain extent, in others hot or cold therapy does. For me as I mentioned above heat, TENS and Reflexology are what keeps me ticking along in between Botox appointments. Its worth experimenting and trying to work out if anything particular helps you.
As I mentioned the other day I did some fundraising and campaigning at my college this week to raise awareness of Dystonia. On the Dystonia Society’s website they have a list of fundraising ideas one of them being Dress for Dystonia. This title inspired me. I encouraged both students and staff members of the college to get involved with my awareness raising campaign by putting on a Dystonia Society top. This ticked off two awareness ideas at once as the tops are green and it was twist on the Dress for Dystonia idea. Everyone who put on a top posed for a photo which I put into an awareness photo collage. Lots more people were willing to get involved than I expected which was great! The college have even done a news article on it and put it up on their website which is amazing as this too provides more awareness of Dystonia.
Generalised Dystonia usually occurs in late childhood/early teens, it is unusual for it to start after the mid twenties have been reached. In the majority of cases symptoms will progress for about five years before stabilising. I was 19 when my Generalised Dystonia started, it started in my Jaw and then spread rather quickly. Though I had an episode of Oromandibular Dystonia back when I was 17.
There are several possible reasons why someone may develop Generalised Dystonia. In some cases it is referred to as Primary, this is when there is no identifiable cause other than genetic factors such as a mutation in the DYT1 gene. Secondary Dystonia is when there is an underlying cause for example another medical condition, stroke etc. Dystonia can be inherited, there is a 30% chance of developing the condition if a person has the mutated gene. There are several other genes which can cause Primary Generalised Dystonia.
Treatment of Generalised Dystonia normally involves a combination of Botox injections and medication. I find a combination of muscle relaxants and six weekly injections, extremely helpful. Levodopa is usually trialled for around two months to see if the Dystonia is Dopamine responsive. Deep Brain Stimulation is also used to treat the condition and can make a huge impact to the sufferers quality of life. Selection for this however is done very carefully to make sure that the patient is likely to benefit from the treatment as the surgery obviously carries many risks.
Below is an image of one of full body spasms.
Raising awareness of Dystonia is vital. The Dystonia Society’s website says that an estimated 70,000 people in the United Kingdom have the condition. Considering just how many people this is, it is still such an unknown condition to both the public and the medical society. By raising awareness and funds more research can be done. Dystonia may not be life ending but it is life limiting. Without research there is no improvement in treatments for the condition and there is no cure.
When I became ill with the condition I had never heard of it, I had lived my life blissfully ignorant. Now it’s fast approaching the two-year mark of my being ill. Dystonia may have taken away many things from me but it has also inspired me. The only way change will happen is if we bring it around. We can sit and moan about Doctors not understanding the condition all we like, but what difference will that make? By actually having the condition and experiencing it we can choose to empower ourselves with knowledge and spread awareness.
I spent yesterday sat in my College canteen raising money and awareness for Dystonia. The age range of students at the college is from 16 to mature, yet all no matter how old or young were prepared to listen to what I had to say and asked lots of questions. I went with lots of leaflets that The Dystonia Society had provided me with and every single one of them got taken by people wanting to go away and read more.
Awareness is key to a cure being found and weeks like this one are the perfect time to do it. Tea parties, joining in with campaigns like the Go Green for Dystonia one or getting involved with Thunderclap, are all so easy but so effective!! Dystonia Awareness Week is not over until the 11th May, so if you’ve not joined in yet, why not now, every voice counts! https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/9777-dystonia-awareness-week
Instead of working steadily down the body for my blog posts I decided today to go straight on down to the leg/foot. This may have been influenced by todays spasms. For me, I class my leg/foot spasms as one of my most debilitating symptoms as it has resulted in me being unable to walk and having to use a wheelchair. In young adults and children Dystonia in the leg/foot area can be a sign of generalised Dystonia. Whereas for older adults (usually 30+ ) it would be more likely that it would be just in that area, this is known as focal Dystonia. I used to always walk funny, often falling over, and kicking my ankles open. I would often say “my legs just won’t do what I want”, at the time it was laughed off but now I often wonder if this was the first sign of the condition.
Dystonia is currently not a curable condition, therefore treatment is focused more on managing the current symptoms as well as possible. The most effective treatment at the moment involves regular Botox injections, where the injections are given depends on the spasm. Some people find that they need a combination of medications such as muscle relaxants as well as Botox injections . Physiotherapy is thought to be of use as well in a number in a cases, this is something I am starting to try along with Botox and muscle relaxants.
Below are two photos of my foot/leg spasms.
Oromandibular Dystonia affects the mouth area, this includes the tongue, jaw and lips. It is part of my Generalised Dystonia and I find it affects both my jaw and my tongue. I have often found myself in situations where I have found myself sounding like I am drunk because I am unable to pronounce my words due to the spasm going on in my tongue.
Oromandibular Dystonia often affects the sufferers ability to chew and speak. When my spasms are bad I find that I can only consume liquified foods and yoghurts, as the spasms that are taking place leave me unable to chew. Some people may just have Oromandibular Dystonia or they may have it with Blepharospasm (Eye Dystonia), or as part of Generalised Dystonia like myself. If it is a focal Dystonia (just on its own) then it normal appears between the ages of 40 and 70.
Oromandibular Dystonia was one of my first symptoms. I was at university, and to be honest I didn’t really think too much of it at first, but then when the spasms became extreme and caused my jaw to dislocate I began to realise just how much pain they could inflict. As there is no cure for Dystonia a combination of Botox injections and medications are used to manage it. I find Botox injections to be particularly effective at managing it. Botox seems to only work for around 5/6 weeks for me, luckily I have a very lovely neurologist who is willing to administer the injections every 6 weeks. This works fantastically well for me, as without this my jaw spasms are extreme. Some people find pressure points or chewing gum helpful in managing their symptoms.
I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to know more on the condition checking either out The Dystonia Society website http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/types-of-dystonia/mouth-or-tongue-dystonia or The Dystonia Research Foundation http://dystonia-foundation.org/what-is-dystonia/forms-of-dystonia/focal-dystonias/more-on-oromandibular-dystonia .
Blepharospasm is a type of Dystonia that affects the eyes. These spasms are often rather painful and can involve the eyelids as well as the muscles behind and around the eyes. As with all types of Dystonia people experience different types of spasms, some people have increased sensitivity to light and rapid blinking, whilst others find their eyes spasm shut, and in some cases the muscles behind the eyes pull the eyes up into the head making the person functionally blind. I experience several of these spasms and find that the sensitivity to light often triggers the other spasms.
Generally speaking symptoms usually appear in people around the ages of 50 to 70. However it does affect younger people, Blepharospasm can appear on its own or in conjunction with or part of other Dystonias such as Meige Syndrome or Generalized Dystonia. Blepharospasm is thought to affect around 7,000 adults in the UK.
There is currently no known cure for Dystonia. Treatment for Blepharospasm normally involves regular Botox injections. I find that six weekly injections around my eyes helps with symptoms such as spasming shut and rapid blinking, but the muscles behind the eyes cannot be injected. By wearing dark sunglasses in the sunlight or in brightly lit area, I can reduce the chances of going blind but it still happens. The longest this has ever happened for is 15 hours. Some people find that pressure points around the temples, and nose area can help relieve the spasms. Obviously these pressure points differ from person to person.
In the picture below you can see my eyes pulled back in a spasm leaving me functionally blind.
The Dystonia Society’s website has some great tips on how to cope with the condition so head on over to it to find out more http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/types-of-dystonia/eye-dystonia-
From today to the 11th of May is Dystonia Awareness week! To celebrate it and help spread awareness I have taken apart in the Go Green for Dystonia campaign. I decided that I would do this in a similar way to last year and have dyed a section of my hair green for the week (luckily it will wash out quickly).
I have a of couple awareness activities planned for this week besides being part of the Go Green for Dystonia Campaign. The first of my awareness activities is to do a blog every day, minus today’s entry I plan for each one to focus on a different aspect of Dystonia and how they can impact on day-to-day life. On Wednesday I am running an Awareness event at my college which I am really excited about, it’ll be a fantastic opportunity to educate lots of people on the condition and raise a bit of money for The Dystonia Society.
I have also signed up to Thunderclap, which is something all of you lovely readers can get involved with too! Thunderclap sends out an awareness message via your Facebook/twitter/tumbler (depending on what you choose) at 1:30pm on May 9th. It’s a great way to spread the word about Dystonia. Even Stephen Fry has signed up for it! If you would like to join in here is the link https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/9777-dystonia-awareness-week.